July 2010

The Risks and Rewards of Synthetic Genomics

New Possibilities

Members of the committee expressed excitement about the potential benefits of synthetic genomics.

“Synthetic biology will be a major frontier in the 21st century,” said U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn.

U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the committee, agreed. He said that genetic engineering research has had amazing effects over the decades, noting that it has been used to make insulin, vaccines and other important medical advances.

“Whereas most research involves one-celled organisms like bacteria or yeast, the results are far reaching,” Waxman said.

Committee members also were encouraged by the research’s potential applications for clean energy technologies.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., asked Jay Keasling, acting deputy director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, about research that uses yeast to produce diesel fuel from sugar cane.

The process is “akin to brewing beer,” said Keasling, who anticipates his team soon will be able to produce fuel in this manner at competitive prices.

“We can innovate our way out of this problem,” said U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., referring to issues surrounding the continued use of fossil fuels.

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